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Take Heart Articles
Unique Cardiac Risks for Diabetic Women
03/29/2006
Diabetic women, read on. Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death for American women. The more risk factors a woman has, the greater her risk of heart attack or stroke. According to the American Heart Association, if one of those risk factors is diabetes, a woman has three to seven times the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke, when compared to women of the same age who do not have diabetes. Today there are 9.1 million adult women with diabetes in the United States.

“Women are at an extra risk compared to men. They are about four more times as likely to die from heart disease if they have diabetes. For men, the risk is only twice as much,” says Dr. Joe Hollins, Palmetto Health Heart Hospital cardiologist.

“Diabetes itself is serious, but even more so with other heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Patients with diabetes often struggle with their weight and have increased risk for obesity,” says Hollins.

Obesity is reaching epidemic proportions. Some experts say it may soon be the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, surpassing smoking. Obesity also is an independent risk factor for coronary artery disease, particularly in women. “There is a need to screen obese women for coronary artery disease, just as there is a need to do the same with people who are diabetic,” says Hollins.

This is particularly important because diabetic patients may be asymptomatic for coronary artery disease, or it may present in more atypical ways, such as fatigue, exertional dyspnea — or shortness of breath during exercise — and indigestion. Neck, back and jaw pain and nausea also are symptoms easily mistaken for other ailments. Atypical symptoms can cause a delayed diagnosis of coronary artery disease.

The good news is you can control your diabetes by following your physician’s directions for medication and adopting healthy lifestyle habits. The doctor’s orders also may include aggressive treatment of other modifiable risk factors, such as lowering cholesterol and blood pressure and losing weight.

“A consistently high blood sugar increases your risk of long-term diabetes complications, as well as increases the risk of fatty plaque build-up, leading to atherosclerosis,” says Hollins. “However, many individuals who consider their diabetes to be ‘diet controlled,’ have unacceptably high insulin levels which lead to higher incidence of heart attack and stroke.”

“Diabetes can be ‘diet-controlled’ with respect to blood sugar, but not with respect to high insulin levels, abnormal lipids and accelerated atherosclerosis,” says Hollins.

Diabetic women struggling with weight gain need to know that weight-loss actually will result from maintaining a steady metabolism, by taking the proper amount and types of medication, exercising regularly and eating a well-balanced diet.

With the guidance of your physician, as well as educating yourself on your unique cardiac, lipid and diabetic profile, you can control your risk for cardiovascular disease.